Effective 12 Step Exercises for Actors in New York City
What are the 12 Steps?
The 12 Step Method was designed by Glenn English after years of study and experimentation in acting workshops.
To produce authentic emotions, actors must free themselves from social convention via sense memory exercises.
These sensory exercises give actors access to a wide range of "remembered emotions", that they truthfully substitute
for the emotional life of their characters.
One set of exercises teach actors how to create characters "from within", based on their own remembered emotions.
A second set teaches them how to build characters "from without", based on a detailed physical and psychological profile.
The combination of these two results in rich characterizations that are riveting and real.
Boost Your Acting Skills with Proven Training Techniques
Step 1 - The Sensory Object
Step 2 - The Sensory Person
Step 3 - The Sensory Place
Students being their training by learning the fundamental techniques of relaxation, along with working in a sensory way. Students learn how to identify tension in the body and release it by using what Lee Strasberg called "The Sound".
Students begin by examining a simple object in detail, using their five senses. When the object is memorized, students put it aside and recreate it with their Sense Memory.
This is called working with a "Sensory Object".
The student builds a person from a photograph and their own sense memories. This should be a person from your past, that is emotionally charged but with whom you also have a sense of closure. For these reasons, working with someone from your childhood is usually recommended.
You should work for as much detail as possible, see their clothing, their eyes, hear their voice and even the smell of their breath.
This is called working with a "Sensory Person".
You again work from a picture. This time of a place from childhood with special significance.
It can be a place of joy, sadness or conflict.
You use the picture as a guide and explore the space in a sensory way, working for sights, sounds, textures, smells, all the things that "make the place, the place".
As you explore the place, you will likely discover things about it you've forgotten. This may include events, memories or even other sensory people.
This is called working with a "Sensory Place".
Step 4 - The Sensory Overall
Step 5 - A Piece of Music
Step 6 - Animal Work
The next exercise is working with a remembered physical condition such as being drunk, having a headache or struggling with a physical injury. In the case of drunkenness, you would work with a bottle of sensory alcohol, taking it drink-by-drink and feeling how it affects your body.
If working with a broken leg, you would explore the sense memory of the injury, the pain and how it affects your movements. You work for the details but it's only for you, one should resist "indicating".
It's important not to play the condition but your struggle against the condition.
This is called working with a "Sensory Overall".
In the fifth exercise, you will learn how to use music as a tool to unlock remembered emotions and also drive your behavior. As before, you will choose something from an earlier point in your life, nothing recent and it should be music that you have strong feelings about.
It's important that the music not be lyric-driven, as lyrics tend to color your behavior and you want that to be spontaneous. At first you work with an actual music recording but later you'll recreate the music via sense memory.
Music is an important tool that you can use in your preparation for scenes that require different emotional colors that are detailed and real.
This is called working with a "Piece of Music".
The sixth exercise requires you choosing an animal whose body is significantly different from your own and is one that you can observe first hand.
To begin, you to study their physical behavior in detail - how they go about doing tasks and solving problems. You then work for the physical details of the animal's body, layering it onto your own body from the feet up, discovering each area as you go.
Once you have the animal's body in a sensory way, you'll complete (3) activities as the animal, to see how your new body affects your own behavior.
This is a way of building character "from the outside in" and it's called "Animal Work".
Step 7 - The "Bones Up"
Step 8 - The Childhood Bedroom
Step 9 - The Third Act
You learn to create a character from an anthology of interviews by Studs Terkel called "Working". This exersise requires you to combine building a character from without and from within.
Working with our "Ultimate Character Builder", you create a detailed character based on their physical, psychological and personal history. Armed with that, you perform the monologue, fleshing out the bones with the characters history.
Based on their personal history, you add a Sensory Place of your own to the monologue, that matches the circumstances of the character.
Finally, you add a Sensory Person to the equation by asking yourself, "Who is the charater speaking to and who would that person be for me?"
This is building a character from "The Bones Up".
This is a pure sense memory exercise that combines elements of the Sensory Object, Place and Person. It also requires the actor to return to childhood memory in an uncommon way. You begin by standing outside the door of your childhood bedroom. You explore the details of your own childhood self, along with a sensory object you've brought along.
You enter the room and explore the contents of the room in sensory detail, describing what you see, touch, smell and hear. After this you approach the bedroom mirror and tell us what you see in your face, your clothes and your age?
Lastly, you approach your bed, check under to see what's there, if anything? If you have a bedroom ritual from childhood, perform it and lie down for sleep.
This is working with your "Childhood Bedroom".
This exercise has three parts (1) a Sensory Overall that's painful (2) a physical activity that's distasteful and (3) an unpleasant phone conversation you've been trying to avoid.
You enter your living space working the painful overall and begin the physical activity that you don't want to do. The injury should complicate your activity, as well as fuel your resisitance to the conversation, before you complete the activity. This difficult phone call should be based on a real life conflict you have with a real person in your life.
Use the sensory details of the place, the overal and the activity to underscore your conflict with your Sensory Person. The conversation should function as a monologue but take the time to hear your person, their counterargument & their pauses.
Pick up the phone, be clear about your feelings and
don't hold back.
This exercise is called "The Third Act".
STEP 10 - Song & Dance
STEP 11 - The Affective Memory
STEP 12 - The Private Moment
In this exercise, you'll work with a sentimental love song, a series of Sensory Persons & Sensory Places. The song itself should be a ballad, it should be one that strikes a chord for you and you must know the lyrics cold. You begin by singing the song alone, in front of the class, for no one but yourself.
From here on, I'll ask you to sing it for a series of Sensory Persons that you'll create from your past. There's a standard list but they'll include your mother, father, siblings, your first kiss, first lover, childhood friend, childhood enemy & the "one that got away". You'll also have to dance with them, as you sing.
In addition to your persons, you'll have to sing in a variety of musical styles, like rap, country, jazz & opera. You'll be asked to identify and create specific sensory places like Carnegie Hall or a Broadway stage.
Lastly, you'll put all of your Sensory People into the audience, along with the class. You'll see us all and we'll all be there for you as you sing, one final time.
This exercise is about tapping your inner musical child & it's called "Song and Dance".
This is one of the key exercises in the training & one that Method Actors use often in their work. You use a Sensory Place and Sensory Person(s) to recall an emotionally charged experience from childhood or earlier life.
You begin the exercise in a chair and you explore the sensory details of the place. I'll ask you a series of questions about the place and circumstances. As you see, hear, touch & smell the Sensory Place, I'll ask you about any Sensory Person(s) that may be part of the experience.
Once these are established, you'll move forward towards the actual event, describing it in sensory detail as you recall it.
Method Actors use this tool to recreate complex, powerful emotions that they substitute for the emotional life of the character. With practice, actors can recall these remembered emotions very quickly & with a minimum of preparation.
This exercise is called "The Affective Memory".
This the last exercise of the training and everything you’ve worked on up to this point which will come into play. There are three stages to this exercise in terms of behavior and they must all be connected in one way or another.
You begin by establishing your private place and by bringing in things "that make the place, the place." When you enter, you begin a specific activity and behavior that is relatively private. Often this takes the form of a problem that you bring home with you.
This first stage should bring you to another type of behavior/activity that is significantly more private than the initial one. In this stage, the actor may explore the details of the problem and how that emotion affects their behavior.
In the last stage, you present a solution to the problem that culminates in some display of behavior that is incredibly private and has a real emotional price tag for the actor. We ask you to show us a side of you that we'd never suspect existed and don't hold back!
One of the overall goals in this training is learning how to be private in public and this exercise is your proof of that ability.
The final exercise is called "The Private Moment".